Philipp Von Boeselager
The last of the conspirators in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler, whose role was undetected until after the war
Philipp Von Boeselager, who died on Thursday aged 90, was the last surviving conspirator in two failed attempts to assassinate Hitler during the Second World War, including the July 20 plot for which most of his co-conspirators were executed.
Boeselager was one of eight Wehrmacht officers who planned to shoot Hitler and the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, on a visit to the Eastern Front in March 1943, but the plot was called off in Himmler's absence.
In July 1944, Boeselager and his brother Georg were among 200 men and women involved in a second assassination attempt when a bomb was planted under a table in Hitler's eastern headquarters in East Prussia, now part of Poland, known as the Wolf's Lair.
The bomb exploded on July 20, but the Nazi leader escaped with slight injuries because an officer had moved the briefcase containing the explosives behind a massive oak table leg, which largely protected Hitler from the full force of the blast.
Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg and other officers involved in the plot were rounded up and shot the same day, while others, including thousands of their relatives, were tortured and executed; but Boeselager, who had obtained the explosives, escaped detection.
The episode is being made into a Hollywood film called Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise playing Stauffenberg.
Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager was born on September 6, 1917, at Burg Heimerzheim, near Bonn, into a distinguished Rhenish Roman Catholic family that could trace its origins to the Archbishopric of Magdeburg in 1363.
While the title Freiherr refers to a barony that was recognised in 1823, the family fostered a tradition that ran counter to the Protestant nature of the German empire.
The fourth of eight children, Boeselager attended the Jesuit Aloysius College at Bad Godesberg until 1936. He wanted to study law at university with a view to becoming a diplomat, but his grandfather thought he would be less compromised by the Nazis if he joined the army.
In 1942, as a 24-year-old field lieutenant in the 41st Cavalry, Boeselager turned against the Nazi government after hearing how five Romany gypsies had been shot in cold blood purely on the ground of their ethnicity.
With his commanding officer, Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge, Boeselager joined a plot to assassinate the Führer. The first attempt was in March 1943, when both Hitler and Heinrich Himmler were expected at the Eastern Front for a strategy meeting with Kluge.
Once Hitler was dead, Boeselager was to order his troops (who were ignorant of the plot) to commandeer horses and return to Berlin to seize key parts of the city and to round up senior Nazis in a full-scale coup d'état.
Boeselager was issued with a Walther PP pistol, with which he was to shoot both Hitler and Himmler during dinner at the officers' mess. But the plan was aborted at the last minute when Himmler left early, opening up the possibility that he would have succeeded Hitler as leader.
In the spring of 1944 the conspirators planned a second attempt on Hitler's life, Boeselager helping to supply Stauffenberg with explosives.
When ordered to deliver his cargo, Boeselager found the recipient was in a meeting, so he carried his payload in a suitcase to the cinema to avoid drawing attention to himself.
"They were showing a comedy," he recalled. "But I didn't see much. I had to be careful that people didn't trip on the suitcase."
When at last he met his contact, Boeselager said: "I'm supposed to give you a suitcase.
"He said, 'Thank you', and that was all."
The bomb was planted under a table at Hitler's Eastern Front headquarters where he was holding a meeting. Although Hitler survived, Boeselager had already set in train his return to Berlin to help install a new government.
He would later recall an "unbelievable" ride covering 120 miles in 36 hours, with 1,000 cavalrymen under his command, to reach an airport in western Russia from where they had planned to fly back to the German capital.
But on receiving from his brother Georg the coded message, "All back into the old holes," Boeselager knew that the plot had failed, and that he must return to the front at once.
While most of the other conspirators were executed by firing squad, Boeselager's part in the plot remained undetected, as was that of his brother Georg -- who was later killed in action on the Eastern Front.
It was only after the war that Boeselager's role in the failed assassination attempts was revealed. He was hailed as a hero in both Germany and France, and awarded the highest military honours both countries could bestow. Boeselager studied economics and became an expert in forestry.
From March 1946 Boeselager was a member of the Knights of St John in Malta. He co-founded their medical operation and organised German pilgrim trips to Lourdes.
In old age he confessed still to having nightmares about the conspiracy, and counselled young people against political apathy. He carried a cyanide capsule with him until the end of the war, and for the rest of his life kept the Walther PP pistol with which he had planned to shoot Hitler.
Boeselager never met Stauffenberg himself, saying that it would have been too dangerous for them to speak with one another.
Philipp von Boeselager is survived by his wife Rosa and their four children.